The Olympic Games are about to start. For 6 months to a year now we have heard nothing but how bad the Rio Olympics will be, and how corrupt the IOC is, and how bad everything Olympic is. I am quite tired of hearing this.
For many media people in the US, who are assigned to work the Olympics, a beat they inherit only every few years, likely against their wishes, they immediately start to work to find negative stories to write about the Olympics, because they know nothing else. This does not refer to the Olympic and international sports beat writers such as Phil Hersh, Chris Brennan, Alan Abrahamson, Bonnie Ford, Tim Layden, Nick Zaccardi, Chris Chavez, Chris Clarey, Steve Wilson, who know about, and of, the Olympics better than do I.
I am tired of hearing rants each morning from Mike Greenberg on Mike & Mike about how bad the Olympics are, how corrupt they are, and how bad these Olympics are going to be. A few disclaimers here – I love the Mike & Mike show, and listen to it religiously each morning. And I am very connected to the Olympics and have working relationships with both the US Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Yes, I am biased, just as Mike Greenberg (Greeny) is biased in the other direction.
If I were to meet him, which is unlikely, I would ask Greeny one question “What exactly were the problems you noted at the Olympic Games you have attended?” And I know what that answer would be – he’s never been to an Olympics.
In March 2015 I had meetings with the 2024 Boston Olympic Bid Committee about working with them, although that never came to pass. Boston held various “town meetings” in which they discussed the possibility of hosting the 2024 Olympics. At these meetings the NoBostonOlympics group was there, usually led by Chris Dempsey and Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist the group enlisted to support their case. Had I been able to work for Boston 2024 and present their case, I would asked them the same question, “What exactly were the problems you noted at the Olympic Games you have attended?” And I know what that answer would have been – neither one had ever been to an Olympics.
I’ve been to 11 Olympic Games, starting with Montréal 1976. Going to an Olympic Games is a transformative experience. If you haven’t been you should go to an Olympics. Even if you are not a sports fan, you would love them, and you would wonder what all the negative press is about.
Earlier this week on Mike & Mike, they had a college football coach on, Dabo Sweeney, who rhapsodized about how wonderful football is, and how it brings together people of all races, all creeds, all backgrounds, and gets them to work together.
That may be true. That is also dwarfed by an Olympic Games. Jim McKay, the long-time host of the Olympics in the United States for ABC Television, once noted, “The Olympics are the largest peacetime gathering of humanity in the history of the world.” Think about that phrase – the history of the world. That’s approximately 13.8 billion years, by current estimates. And its accurate.
When you go to an Olympics, you meet people from everywhere, and I don’t mean Tuscaloosa, Sheboygan, Madison, and Chagrin Falls. I mean Bangladesh, Nigeria, Korea, Azerbaijan, Tasmania, and places you’ve never heard of. And these people are all getting along, and enjoying themselves for two weeks. And you start to realize something – these people, who you never thought you would know, are more like you than they are different from you. Just as football players of different races, creeds, and backgrounds, can work together and get along together, so can people of different nations, from different backgrounds, religions, races, creeds.
I have been to Olympics and Olympic meetings, and had breakfast with a woman from Bangladesh, who told me how wonderful her nation was. Its one of the world’s poorest nations, but she was so proud of it, and she was a wonderful lady. We were much more alike than we were different.
I remember sitting in the aquatics venue at Montréal rooting madly with a group of Mexicans next to me for Félipe Muñoz to come up from fourth place and win a medal, and cheering wildly with them when Muñoz came through. Two Americans won gold and silver, by a figurative mile, but it was more exciting cheering with the Mexicans, who were more like me than they were different from me.
I remember having lunch with former Ugandan Olympic boxer, and then IOC Member, Frank Nyangweso, and hearing him rhapsodize about Muhammad Ali and how much he admired him, and then asking me why Americans always drank such large glasses of all drinks, a question for which I had no answer, but after dining with him I knew we both loved Muhammad Ali, and were much more alike than we were different.
And there are many more such examples I’ve experienced. I’ve met and gotten to know, and become friends with, people from countries I couldn’t even locate before I started this Olympic Odyssey. And always, we got along, peacefully, rather than fighting wars, and always, I would find that we were more alike than we were different.
The Olympics do this. They bring people together for two weeks of wonderful athletic competition. As Debbie Krzyzewski (Mike’s oldest daughter) once told me after Barcelona, “The Olympics are a two-week long party.” They are, but they are a party that the whole world celebrates, not just Crimson Tide fans, or not just Duke basketball fans (of which I am one).
The Olympics bring together the best athletes of the world peacefully, and they bring together 100s of 1000s of spectators, fans, officials, and other ancillary personnel together in peaceful cooperation and a two-week long party, celebrating the largest peacetime gathering of humanity in the history of the world. We can never get along with our so-called enemies until we meet them, talk to them, get to know them, and realize, they are more like us than they are different from us.
Are the Olympics then perfect and do they not have problems? Of course not, and I assure you I know way more about those problems than does Greeny and the know-nothings who write about all the negative things because they can’t find anything else to write about.
However, I also know the good things, and I think the Olympics are an important contribution to bringing the peoples of the world together, peacefully, in only a small way, but they do it and they let us realize we are all more alike than we are different, and could get along if we would just come together more often.
Let the Games begin.